Health & Home

A more natural approach to nail polish

June 7, 2016

Nail polish is an everyday item for us women, isn’t it? So much so that it almost becomes a hole in our vision. It’s the cosmetic “set it and forget it” – we apply it (or have it done for us at a salon), and then we leave it there for a few days, a week, maybe two weeks, until it’s time to take it off or do it again.

Personally, I rarely do my finger nails because it just doesn’t last. In high school, I took guitar lessons and kept my nails very short and every since, a nail anywhere past the end of my fingernail makes me crazy and needs to be cut. There’s very little point to polishing these little nubs, and anyway, between cleaning, washing dishes, gardening and crafting, my polish will get demolished. But my toe nails, that’s another story. In the summertime when it’s all sandals and flip flops, I love painting my toe nails fun colors.

I’ve been aware of the ingredients in nail polish for a long time, thanks to a childhood neighbor with an allergy to one. As an adult, I’ve slowly began moving from drugstore nail polish to “big 3 free” nail polish. Why?

Read this article for the most in-depth explanation I can offer. A snippet for you: “Researchers recently tested for signs of chemical toxins in 24 women participating in their study. They found evidence of toxins in the bodies of every single woman. What was the source of these chemicals? Nail polish. The results showed that 100% of the participants showed signs of triphenyl phosphate only 10 hours after applying nail polish. This type of conclusive result is remarkable, and it’s also alarming.”

The big 3 ingredients include formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate, with “big 4” and “big 5” including other compounds and versions of the same. These products are known carcinogens and neurotoxins. Put simply, nail polish stinks like chemicals because it is all chemicals.

The article referenced above goes on to discuss triphenyl phosphate, a strong hormone disruptor that was found present in many popular brands but was not disclosed in the ingredient lists. This compound can affect hormone production, reproduction and metabolism.

This isn’t something you lock away under the sink and only use when you have to. This is that fun, colorful stuff we paint onto our selves and our children, then leave on for days or weeks so it has plenty of time to absorb.

So how do you avoid it? Luckily, people have started taking note and more and more “big 3 free”, “big 4-5 free” and even water based nail polishes have become available.

Among well known brands, American Apparel, Essie, Estee Lauder, Lancome, Nicole, OPI and Wet n Wild are big 3 free. Looking at a list of big 5 free, I’ll admit the only one I see readily is L’Oreal (though names likes Chanel and Dior appear; Zoya is a great big 5 free brand).

Water based polishes are a different story. The big 3 and big 5 polishes are still based the same as traditional nail polish, so they don’t smell as bad, but they still have an odor and they act largely like traditional nail polish. I’ve found water based polishes to be virtually odorless, and they don’t act quite the same as others. The biggest difference I’ve found is that acetone nail polish remover doesn’t work well to remove, you need a non-acetone remover. I’ve heard that they crack and peel on finger nails without a top coat, but for toe nails they’re perfect. I’ve had a single coat last beautifully for over a week.

Part of my Sprout non toxic collection.

Part of my Sprout non toxic collection.

I recently discovered Sprout, which is discontinuing it’s line so that the owners can focus on their other small business ventures (sad for us, hopefully great for them!) Remaining stock is on sale, and it’s really good stuff. Some other water based brands include Suncoat, Aquarella, and Piggy Paint, the latter which is supposedly great for even little kids because it’s easy to remove. Speaking of kids, water based polishes are totally non toxic and all ingredients are inert, so even if a toddler decides to chew on fingers with polish, it’s harmless.

Doubling back, I’m not one to be convinced by a single study or article, and I’m sure you aren’t either. I can hear it now, the derisive snorts and comments like, “well, everything gives you cancer these days” that my earlier comments may have elicited. And that may be true. No matter how careful we are, we are not in control. Accidents can happen. Illnesses can develop, seemingly out of nowhere! It’s probably true that the presence of electronics everywhere and the chemicals we put on our skin and the pesticides on the foods we eat are all affecting our bodies in real ways we may not even understand.

It’s all risk management. We take the risks we’re comfortable with, and avoid or minimize the ones we’re not comfortable with. So maybe standard nail polishes are leeching neurotoxins into our bodies every minute. Maybe they’re not.

Personally, I’m comfortable with owning this little nugget of knowledge and moving away from using standard nail polishes. It may only be a drop in the ocean when it comes to the risks we take in everyday life, but I’ll take it. If the replacement products I’ve found were severely lacking, this might be a hard choice. But when safer alternatives exist with minimal difference in performance, I’ll take it, hands down.

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